A/N: Greetings from my cocoon!

I completely spaced on updating this in October. SO, going forward, this story will update on the first of every month. It's the best I can do right now with my other WIP and RL demands.

I reviewed and revised this in between being passed out with fever, so if something seems completely out of whack I apologize. The only good thing about being ill is having extra time to write, and even that is hard for me to get motivated to do whilst down and out.

Meet me at the end?

Chapter Song: Numbers by Great Northern

- N.

Characters belong to SM. The twisted tale of these kids belongs to me.

Chapter 3 – Temporary Bliss

By the end of the week, Edward was planning his return to Seattle. He didn't care if he had to couch hop for the remainder of his senior year; anything would be better than enduring the hellish nightmare that was Saint Vincent's.

The fact that his brother had assumed a full-time position in Rosalie "Cunt-of-the-Century" Hale's following didn't make him feel any better about his new life in the Midwest. Despite their differences, Edward grew up knowing he could count on Jasper to be there for him when things got bad. Clearly I was wrong about that, he thought bitterly. The moment they left Washington, things went from bad to worse, and now when Edward needed him the most his brother was nowhere to be found.

"Edward?" Esme knocked twice and inched the bedroom door open, poking her head around the corner. "You're going to be late if you don't get ready."

"Alright," he mumbled, pushing the covers back and sitting up. Esme looked like she wanted to say something, but she just shook her head and smiled sadly, closing the door and giving Edward his privacy.

He stood up and rubbed his eyes in an attempt to rid them of the exhaustion they carried. He hadn't gotten a good night of sleep since the accident. Every time he closed his eyes, all Edward could think about was shattering glass, screeching tires, flesh being punctured, and bones breaking. It was like his mind was out to torture him, taking him on a surreal, fucked up journey into the depths of his parents' deaths.

Carlisle would want him to go to therapy soon. In all honesty, Edward was surprised that neither him nor Esme had suggested it yet. Maybe they're hoping you'll start to cheer up after a few weeks, a tiny voice in his head whispered.

If that were the case, his aunt and uncle would be waiting forever.

He walked into his bathroom and locked the door behind him. Bending down, he opened the cabinet beneath the sink and let his hands guide him, producing a near-empty liter of vodka seconds later. He sunk to the floor and unscrewed the cap, lifting the bottle to his lips and letting the clear liquid burn a trail from the tip of his tongue to his stomach. Closing his eyes and tipping his head back, Edward fought off the nausea that threatened to surface every time he drank without eating first. He took another large swig before capping the bottle and putting it back in its place.

Despite what his classmates and teachers back home thought, Edward had never been much of a drinker. His outward appearance fit the bill of the "bad boy," that much was true, but he never cared to regularly indulge in mind-altering substances.

One week in Chicago changed that part of him too.

He stood and peeled off his pajamas, turning on the shower and stepping beneath the hot steam of water. The effect of the alcohol was starting to kick in, and soon enough he'd be so numb it wouldn't matter what anyone said or did to him.

Not that it mattered anyway; he'd been stamped with an unfavorable label and dismissed within hours of starting the school year.

He made sure to brush the scent of the alcohol away and decided to forego shaving. After he was dressed, Edward headed downstairs for yet another awkward breakfast with his aunt and uncle.

"Good Morning, Edward. Would you like some coffee?" Maria reached for the cabinet that held the mugs, but Edward held out his hand to stop her.

"No thanks, Maria, I'm good." He padded across the floor and dropped down onto one of the stools that lined the breakfast bar. A bowl of yogurt topped with granola and a tall glass of orange juice were already set out for him. Edward grabbed the spoon and mixed the yogurt up, taking a bite and feigning enthusiasm over the sad excuse for breakfast.

"Where's Jasper?" he mumbled. Maria looked over and furrowed her brow.

"What was that?"

"Where's Jasper?" Edward asked, raising his voice a few notches.

"He left about twenty minutes before you came down."

Edward felt his stomach twist in knots and he pushed his barely eaten bowl of yogurt across the counter. "I'm not very hungry. I think I'm going to go." He reached down and grabbed his backpack, slinging it over his shoulder.

"Have some juice at least?" Maria picked the glass up and handed it to him. Edward stared at if or a moment before gulping it down. Maria smiled and patted his arm.

The Town Car was waiting at the curb for Edward when he walked outside. A part of him foolishly hoped his brother was in the back seat, but when he opened the door, all Edward saw was empty leather.

"Good Morning, Mr. Cullen." James turned and gave Edward an icy smile. "Is your brother joining us?"

Edward shook his head. James nodded in acknowledgment and stepped lightly on the gas, heading in the direction of the school. Edward stayed silent throughout the ride, watching the neighborhood pass by out the darkly tinted windows. When the car came to a stop he didn't bother saying goodbye.

"Edward! Wait up!"

He turned and saw a girl jogging towards him. He'd seen her in a few of his classes, but he couldn't remember her name. She was short and thin, with shoulder-length brown hair and deep blue eyes. She stopped a few feet away from him and smiled.

"Were you talking to me?" Edward resisted the urge to plant his palm firmly against his forehead. Nice, Cullen. Really nice.

"You're the only Edward in our grade, so yes." She stepped forward and stuck out her hand. "I'm Jessica Stanley. I probably should have introduced myself on the first day of classes, but I wasn't sure if you'd get sucked into the troll's nest or not."

"Edward Cullen," he said, shaking her hand and narrowing his eyes in confusion. "The troll's nest?"

"Rosalie Hale's clique," she explained. "Your brother fell right into place with them, so I guess I figured you might too."

"Fuck no," Edward spat out. Jessica giggled and rested a hand on her hip.

"In that case, you should join my friends and me for lunch today." Jessica held the door open for Edward. "We eat at Lauren Mallory's place. That's 'the court' for those of us who are too intelligent to be caught dead in the actual court."

The corners of Edward's lips twitched upward. "I'm there." Jessica gave him another smile, then turned and headed the opposite direction down the hall. He watched her until she disappeared around the corner.

He didn't know who this girl was, or why she wanted to eat lunch with him of all people, but he had a feeling he would like her. Hell, he already liked her. And if her friends were anything like her, there was a good chance he'd like them as well.

Edward made a beeline for his locker, hoping to grab his chemistry textbook and make it to homeroom without having to endure any awkward interactions. Luck wasn't on his side, however.

"Hi, Edward." He turned to find Alice standing behind him. A smile lit her face and her eyes looked hopeful. Edward glanced around nervously, wondering if there was some spectacularly planned ambush in the works. Fortunately none of the other members of the troll's nest were in sight.

"What's up?" He used his elbow to close his locker and set off in the direction of his homeroom. Alice fell into step beside him, hugging her books to her chest and continuing to smile.

"I'm having a few people over on Sunday and I was hoping you'd come."

Edward stopped abruptly and turned to face her. "You're joking, right?"

She took several steps back, knuckles whitening when she squeezed her books harder. "I know we didn't get off to the best start, but-"

"Didn't get off to the best start?" He narrowed his eyes and bit back the toxic words he wanted to say. "Your friends managed to judge and cast me away in a matter of minutes. Then, to top it all off, they yanked my brother off into their clutches. Not getting off to the best start is a nice way of putting it."

Alice sighed. "Look, Rosalie can be a bitch, Bella is somewhat of a follower, and the guys aren't exactly the brightest bulbs on the tree, but that doesn't mean everyone in the school is a lame duck."

"You're right, it just means everyone in your social circle is."

"I know you probably won't show, but the offer is on the table and it's not going anywhere." Alice turned and took off in the opposite direction. Edward watched her until she disappeared around the corner.

For a second he contemplated putting in an appearance at Sunday's gathering. Rose and Emmett aside, the group might not be that bad, and maybe it would segway into what would eventually become the reparation of he and his brother's relationship.

His thoughts were gone as quick as they came. Jasper made his choice on the first day of school, leaving Edward free to do the same today. And his choice was to take the path less traveled.

Hoisting his bag up on his shoulder, Edward made his way to his homeroom with the faint trace of a smile on his face.

IYoK

Bella rummaged around her messenger bag in search of the Fruit Roll-Up she'd grabbed on her way out the door. Renee forgot to order in groceries, again. It was the third consecutive week she'd done this, and even though Bella wasn't planning on cooking up any culinary masterpieces, when it came to breakfast, she preferred a piece of fruit over processed and refined sugar.

She pulled out a sheet of paper and made sure nobody was watching. She scrawled BKFST = 80 before folding it up and tucking it in her bag.

Edward entered the room just as she looked up. If she hadn't already had the pleasure of experiencing his foul mood for three consecutive days, Bella might have thought he looked happy.

His bag dropped to the floor with a thud as he took his seat beside her. She was painfully aware of his presence, shuddering as one by one the hairs on the back of her neck stood at attention. Goosebumps peppered her skin, creating near invisible hills and valleys along the ivory surface.

"Good Morning class," Mr. Molina belted out. Within seconds he'd written an overview of the lab instructions on the board and settled himself behind his desk. "Today we're going to be looking at emission spectrums for three selected groups of elements. The materials you need are on the counter by the window. You'll have forty-five minutes to complete this lab. Please begin."

"How do you-" Bella turned to ask Edward a question, but her words fell away when she realized he was already up and out of his seat. She glanced around the room, taking note of how the rest of her classmates were interacting with one another. Friendly smiles, whispers, and ducked heads filled the room, subsequently filling Bella with a combination of annoyance and longing.

"Put these in that beaker," Edward ordered, appearing next to her and shoving a stack of wooden splints and a water-filled beaker in front of her. The six element samples lined the center of the table, creating a division that nobody else would notice. Bella grabbed the sticks as Edward lit the Bunsen burner, and had almost placed them in the beaker when she dropped them on the table and crossed her arms over her chest.

"I don't just take orders from people."

Edward smirked. "How else do you get your lab work done?"

"I read the instructions, asshole."

"Language, Ms. Swan!" Mr. Molina glanced at her over the top of his glasses, unleashing his trademark "I-mean-business" look.

Bella reached calmly around Edward, snatching their lab workbook from the table and flipping it open to the appropriate page. "It says here we have to let the burner heat up before testing the salts."

"And it says here," he slammed his index finger down on a paragraph, "to soak the sticks before testing the salts."

"Perhaps you'd like to do the experiment by yourself then." Bella yanked her stool out with the toe of her shoe and sat down, flipping her hair over her shoulder and blowing out an angry sigh.

"It's not like you'd be helpful anyway," Edward muttered.

"What was that?"

"I said, it's not like you'd be helpful anyway," he said, louder this time. Several of their classmates stopped and turned to witness the exchange.

She stood again. "You know what, Edward? Fuck you!"

"No thanks. I'm sure more than enough people have taken this," he used his index finger to trace the outline of her figure, "for a ride already."

Her palm collided against his cheek with a loud smack, eliciting a few surprised gasps from their classmates.

"That's enough!" Mr. Molina was out of his chair and across the room in record time. "Both of you go to the principle's office – now!"

Bella grabbed her bag and kicked her stool in, thundering out of the room and slamming the door behind her. She ducked into the closest bathroom, locking herself in a stall and letting the tears she'd been holding back start to fall. She reached blindly in her bag, clasping the first bottle that she found and bringing it into the light. Clonazepam. Not her first choice, but it would do the job. Bella slid two of the yellow pills into her mouth and swallowed. It only took a few minutes for the drugs to kick in, slowing her heart rate and easing the tremors that had started to shake through her.

When her anxiety had sufficiently subsided, Bella emerged from the stall and splashed some cool water under her puffy eyes. She couldn't let Mr. Varner – or Edward – see her like this. She was supposed to be a strong woman, not a weak girl who let the words of someone she didn't even know bring her down.

Two deep breaths helped her to focus.

Everything will be all right, Bella.

Two more deep breaths cleared her mind.

One more year inside these walls and then you're free.

Another two breaths returned the strength to her limbs and the courage to her heart.

Head high, shoulders back, smile on your face.

Her mind recited this mantra as she counted to ten on her fingers. Using her shoulder to ease the door open, Bella slipped back into the quiet hallway, façade in place and emotions sufficiently regulated.

Remember to breathe, Bella.

Just breathe.

IYoK

Jessica was waiting outside of Mr. Varner's office when Edward was done.

"What's the verdict?"

Edward narrowed his eyes, wondering how she knew where he was. After a minute he chuckled, stuffing his hands in his pockets and kicking the floor with the toe of his boot. "Detention next Monday."

"That's not so bad. Good company at least?"

"Yeah, right," he scoffed. "Unless you count Isabella Swan as 'good company.'"

Jessica scrunched her nose and shook her head. "Definitely not."

"So, where does this Lauren Mallory chick live?"

"Just a few blocks away. She and Jacob are waiting out front."

"Jacob?" Edward asked, following her down the hall and out one of the side doors. He fished his Ray-Bans out of the pocket on his leather jacket and slid them on his face.

"My boyfriend," Jessica explained. She rounded the corner where a tall, muscular guy and a thin blonde were waiting.

"It's about fucking time," the blonde said, twirling a pair of keys around her finger and blowing a giant bubble with her gum.

"Cullen here scored a first-class ticket to Varner's office." Jessica winked at him and tucked herself under the guy's arm. And that would be Jacob, Edward thought.

"In the first week, man? Nice job!" Muscles stuck his fist out and Edward knocked his against it awkwardly. "I'm Jacob Black."

"And I'm Lauren Mallory," the blonde said, flashing what Edward guessed was her version of a flirty smile. He nodded acknowledgment to them both.

"I'm officially inducting Edward into our non-clique clique." Jessica's words made the other two laugh.

"We're always looking for new members," Lauren said, turning toward the school's parking lot. Four pairs of feet padded across the grass until they reached a shiny new Mercedes sedan.

"You can have shotgun," Jacob said, opening the rear passenger door for Jessica. Once they were all seated, Lauren turned on a loud rock song and tore off out of the lot.

"I hate this fucking car," she said, casting a sideways glance in Edward's direction. "My parents can't grasp the fact that I'm not part of the Saint Vincent's flock."

"My aunt and uncle don't get it either," Edward confessed. "They send me to school every morning in a fucking Town Car. I hate that shit."

Jessica leaned forward so her head poked through the space between the two front seats. "Did you have a car when you moved here?"

"No, I sold it before we came?"

"Why?"

He shrugged. "I didn't want to drive it halfway across the country."

"Why did you move here anyway?" Jacob piped up.

Edward bit his lip until he tasted blood. The nice thing about being an outcast was that nobody bothered to take the time to try and get to know you. Maybe choosing to be social wasn't such a bright idea after all. "There was an accident."

"You had an accident?" Lauren inquired.

"My parents were killed in a car accident."

"Oh man, I'm sorry." Jacob clamped his hand down on Edward's shoulder. The girls muttered condolences and averted their eyes.

"Thanks," Edward mumbled. Lauren brought the car to a stop in front of a large brick mansion.

"Coming?" Jessica knocked on his window and smiled. Edward took a deep breath and eased the door open, getting out and following Lauren's lead through the gated entrance and into the house.

"We don't really come here to eat," Jacob whispered. "Well, we do eat, but mostly we smoke up and listen to tunes. I mean you don't have to smoke up if you don't want to, but I'm guessing you aren't straight?"

"Not as of late."

"Weed your only weapon?"

"I'm more of a fan of pharmaceuticals."

Jacob arched an eyebrow. "Serious shit. I like that."

Edward shrugged. "It's not something I do regularly, but when I need an escape it does the trick."

"That's all that matters man."

Lauren broke out a glass pipe, and a few hits later Edward was soaring. When they returned to school an hour after that, he was high enough that the uncomfortable stares and hushed whispers of his classmates no longer fazed him.

When he sunk down into his seat in calculus, there was only one thought on his mind:

Three more hours and he'd be free for the weekend.

IYoK

Dinner that night was anything but comfortable.

"Would you like more salad, Edward?" Maria appeared at his side with a large glass bowl. Edward shook his head no and pushed his plate away.

Carlisle watched the exchange and shot a worried glance at Esme. "You've barely touched your food tonight, Edward. Is something wrong?"

Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, Edward looked up at his uncle and cleared his throat. "I don't like pasta."

"You never had a problem eating it before," Jasper commented.

"And you weren't always a status-obsessed douche bag. Shit changes, no?"

"Edward!" Esme dropped her fork on the table and frowned. "You two don't have to like each other all the time, but you will be respectful to one another as long as you both live under this roof. Is that understood?"

He stood abruptly, knocking his chair over and throwing his napkin on top of his plate. "Then maybe I should find a different roof to live under." His aunt watched in shock as Edward stormed off to his room, slamming the door shut behind him.

It didn't take Carlisle more than a minute to come after him. "You can be mad at the world all you want, Edward, but don't take that out on Esme. She's doing her best to make sure you both feel welcome here."

Edward scoffed. "I'm supposed to feel welcome here? You're joking, right?" He reached for his leather jacket and tugged it on violently. "I have to tip toe around in this house wondering if I'm going to offend someone. Half of the school won't even acknowledge that I exist, and do I have anyone I can share any of this with? No, I don't, because my brother – my fucking brother – walked away from me the first chance he got. So, excuse me for not feeling welcome, Carlisle."

His uncle ran a hand through his hair and sank down onto the edge of Edward's bed. "I'm sorry you had a rough week. I can't promise you that things will get any easier, but I can tell you that the pain will lessen as time goes by."

"Oh, really? And how can you be so sure of that, doctor?" Sarcasm clung heavy to his every word. "Is there a fucking crystal ball hidden up your sleeve?"

Carlisle closed his eyes and took a deep breath. His lips moved silently, counting up from one to ten before he responded. "No crystal ball, no magic tricks. I only speak from experience. "

"Your parents weren't ripped away from you," Edward sneered. "You had the chance to say goodbye." Sharp, carefully placed words flew from his mouth, threatening to penetrate the thick layer of strength that came with age and experience.

"You're right," Carlisle said, standing and wiping his palms on the front of his jeans. "I did say goodbye to my parents. Of course my dad was on life support and my mom's dementia was so far advanced she didn't remember my name, but who's paying attention to details?"

Edward turned and stared out the window. An apology was in order, but his pride wasn't ready to deliver. When he looked back at Carlisle, his eyes resembled hardened sapphire steel. "I'm going to a friend's house. Don't wait up."

"If that will make you feel better, then by all means go ahead," Carlisle said with a shrug. "We have a charity brunch to attend tomorrow morning, so make sure you're awake and ready by ten. Maria hung your suit on the back of your bedroom door."

Edward scoffed. "Count me out of that function."

"No, I'm not counting you out." Carlisle crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the doorframe. "You and your brother are a part of this household now, and that means you'll attend these functions with me and Esme."

"What if I don't like attending these functions?"

"You don't have to like it, but you'll do it regardless. I didn't spend upwards of a thousand dollars on a plate for you to decide you want to play the role of the rebellious teenager."

He rolled his eyes. "Whatever. I'll see you tomorrow." He pushed past Carlisle, jabbing his shoulder into the older man's chest, and stormed down the stairs. As soon as he was outside, he grabbed his cell phone and scrolled to his newest contact.

"That didn't take long." Classic rock and laughter created the soundtrack when Jessica answered. Edward dropped down on the curb and stretched his legs out in front of him. He could feel Esme and Jasper's eyes on him, and he wondered what emotion he'd find buried in their gazes if he turned around.

"Are you busy?"

"Not really." She exhaled loudly and giggled. "I just picked up Lauren and we're out cruising."

"Can you come get me?"

"Sure. You're on Howe, right?"

"Yeah, just off Armitage."

"See you in ten."

When the Chevelle pulled to a stop ten minutes later, Edward felt himself relax. The sound of Van Morrison and the smell of sticky sweet herb greeted him as he slid easily into the backseat.

"What's up man?" Jacob reached his fist out and bumped it against Edward's in a friendly greeting.

"We made a stop," Jessica said, turning to smile at Edward and nodding in Jake's direction. "What's up? You look heated."

"I live with a bunch of assholes," Edward spit out.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

He shook his head. "Not really."

"Fair enough." Jessica turned back around and put the car in gear. "What's our destination?"

"Navy Pier?" Lauren suggested. Jessica glanced at the guys in the rearview and they both shrugged with indifference.

They burned through two more joints before reaching their destination. The girls sprayed themselves with a perfume that made Edward want to gag, and he and Jacob climbed out of the car, drawing in deep breaths of fresh autumn air.

Edward watched his new friends with a curiosity that was only enhanced by the amount of weed he'd just smoked. Jacob waited next to Jessica's door, slipping his arm around her waist when she emerged and burying his hand in her back pocket. She tilted her head up, blowing a raspberry at Jake when he was close enough for their lips to touch. He responded by pinching her nose and giving her a real kiss.

Lauren pulled a compact out and checked her makeup, applying more gloss to her already overly shiny lips. She ran her fingers through her silky blonde hair and splashed a few drops of Visine in her eyes before finally getting out of the car herself. Her eyes settled on Edward right away, and a visible blush crept from the base of her neck up into her cheeks and ears.

"Ready?" Jake threw a glance over his shoulder and Edward nodded. Jessica jumped on the muscular boy's back, securing her arms loosely around his neck and whispering something in his ear that made the entire upper half of his body shake with laughter. Lauren simply rolled her eyes and took off after the other two. Edward reluctantly fell into step beside her.

"Have you ever been to Navy Pier?" He usually hated small talk, but at the moment it left Edward feeling surprisingly good.

"A few times when I was younger. Our parents used to send Jasper and I here for a week every summer to visit Carlisle and Esme."

"Did you have a girlfriend back in Seattle?"

Nice way of being subtle there, Mallory. "You could say that."

"What was her name?"

"Kate."

Lauren stayed silent for a few minutes, much to Edward's relief. Her round of twenty questions would get old very fast.

"What's the story with your brother?" This time it was Jacob making the inquiry.

"He drank Hale's Kool-Aid."

"I give him two months." Jake joked. "They'll chew him up and spit him out. Just like they did to Ben Cheney."

"Who's Ben Cheney?"

"He used to be a part of the troll's nest," Lauren explained. "Then he made the mistake of going to one of Jake's parties. The troll's nest ostracized him, half the school took part in bullying him, and eventually he moved to Vermont to live with his dad."

"Christ," Edward muttered. Maybe he needed to try talking to Jasper after all.

The sun was starting to set, painting colorful designs on Lake Michigan's surface. Jacob came to a stop when they reached the ticket booth next to the pier's large ferris wheel. He deposited Jessica on the sidewalk and pulled out his wallet. "Four please."

Edward took his ticket and followed the others. He watched as people moved on and off, noting that the wheel never came to a halt.

"It never stops," Lauren said, taking note of the confusion on his face. "It freaked me the fuck out the first time I went on it, but after a few times you get used to it."

"I'm surprised nobody's fallen yet."

"Well, it doesn't exactly move at the speed of light," she teased. "When I was younger my sister and I somehow managed to stay on for three rides before the employee kicked us off. Then our older brother and his buddies tried, and they got the boot right away. My parents always said it was because the girls had the Mallory charm, but I'm convinced it boiled down to who had the boobs."

Edward laughed – a genuine laugh that rumbled up from his stomach through his lungs and over his tongue.

"We're up, kids," Jacob pulled Jessica forward, and they climbed in the swaying bucket. Lauren and Edward followed and soon they were suspended in the air.

He could see the entire downtown area, and as his eyes roamed the length of the shoreline, Edward had to admit that his new home was beautiful.

"Smile!" The flash of a camera distracted him from his daydream. Jessica was busy clicking away, documenting their afternoon in a collection of digital images that would inevitably disappear sometime along life's path.

"She thinks she's a photographer or something," Jacob joked, ticking his girlfriend's side. Jessica stuck her tongue out at him and pointed the camera at Edward, snapping a series of random pictures.

"Jessica has been taking pictures since we were kids," Lauren explained. "On days like today you can almost guarantee she'll have her camera with her."

"That's because there's so many moments worth remembering," Jessica said, wrapping her arm around Jacob's shoulders and taking a self-portrait of the two of them. "Like this one."

Edward closed his eyes and tilted his head back, allowing his senses to take over. The wind rustled his hair and children's laughter floated up from the ground below. The smell of corndogs mixed with cotton candy and the girls' perfume wrapped itself around him. As the ride went on, Edward felt the bullshit from the past week start to fall away, only to be replaced by a small slice of unrecognizable happiness.

"I say we try for a double ride." Edward blinked his eyes open and looked around at his three new friends.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a daredevil among us," Jacob whooped, clapping his hands and whistling. Jessica punched his shoulder playfully.

"I think that's an awesome idea," she said, stuffing her camera back in her purse. "We haven't tried it for years. What do you say?"

Lauren shrugged. "I'm up for anything."

A second time on the ferris wheel turned into a round of mini golf, which then evolved into Dippin' Dots, skee ball, shots of whiskey (courtesy of Lauren's parent's liquor cabinet and her oversized purse), and Chicago dogs. When they finally ended up at Oak Street Beach it was after midnight.

"What's your curfew?" Lauren asked, jumping up on the trunk of the Chevelle next to Edward. Jessica and Jacob were in the front seat, lips locked and hands roaming.

"Don't have one." He leaned back, resting his head against the car's back window. Lauren followed suit, placing her cheek on his shoulder. Had he not been drunk, her actions would have irritated him.

"Let's play a game." She sat up and slid off the car, nudging his legs apart with her knee and standing between them.

He decided to play along. "What game?"

"The nervous game," she whispered, placing her hands flat against his stomach. Edward sat up and cocked his head to the side.

"The nervous game? What is this, fifth grade?"

Lauren shook her head and ran her tongue across her lower lip. "Did you do this in fifth grade?" She moved her hands lower, resting them on the front of his jeans and curling her fingers around the waistband.

"Is this some roundabout way of telling me you want to get in my pants?"

She dropped her hands to her side and rolled her eyes. "Fuck, Edward, you sure know how to ruin a moment. Jessica and Jacob are so far gone they won't even notice. What's the problem?"

He closed his eyes and fisted his hair. His mind and body were engaged in a battle of wits. He knew it wasn't nice to lead someone along, but he also wanted to get off – badly, and not by his own accord.

"Well, this is awkward…" Lauren's voice trailed off when he grabbed her hand and placed it over his button fly.

"I don't do shit like this, so consider yourself lucky."

She smirked. "I don't either, Cullen." She undid his jeans and freed him from the confines of his boxer briefs. She stroked his length twice, then bent forward and took him in her mouth. She looked up at him as she slid her lips down his shaft and back up.

Edward sighed, closing his eyes and laying back down on the car. Despite the temporary bliss he felt earlier – and the physical bliss he felt now – he couldn't shake the underlying sadness that crippled every part of him.

He knew then and there that he'd have to become an expert actor if he was going to make it in Chicago.

Might as well start rehearsing now.

A moan fell from his lips and his fingers wove their way into Lauren's hair.

There was no time like the present to feign enjoyment.

Hopefully his theatrics could carry him through the remainder of his senior year.

IYoK

The air was uncharacteristically warm and humid, at least for September. Jasper loosened his tie and undid the first button on the stuffy dress shirt. He wasn't looking forward to being stuck on a boat with his brother for the next four hours. Edward's animosity toward him coupled with the current state of their relationship was making things difficult for everyone in the Cullen household.

"Jasper!" His eyes roamed over the sea of people on the upper deck until they set on a pair of familiar faces. Emmett and Rosalie were leaning against the railing, hands intertwined and smiles on their faces. It didn't take a genius to recognize their buzz.

"Don't just stand there! Get your ass up here!" He followed Rose's lead, ascending the stairs and weaving a path through the crowd of overpriced suits and dresses. Bella and Alice were also there, hidden by Emmett's towering frame.

"Hey." Jasper smirked, taking note of the flush that spread across Alice's cheeks when she saw him.

"We were wondering if you'd be here." For someone so outgoing, Alice had the shy girl act down pat.

"Actually, Alice was obsessing over whether or not you'd be here." Rosalie laughed her obnoxious laugh and stuck her tongue out at her friend. "The rest of us put two and two together last night."

"I was not obsessing, thank you very much. Inquiring minds wanted to know and I prefer not to make assumptions."

"Well, I'm here now, so no assumption-making is necessary." Jasper flashed her a flirty smile and moved so he stood next to her. Alice beamed.

"What is Lauren Mallory wearing?" Four sets of eyes followed Rosalie's gaze. The girl was beautiful; Jasper couldn't deny that. Her chosen attire was not, however. A black dress was wrapped securely around her, complete with a giant black bow and ruffled edges. Hot pink and black lace heels and a giant bag covered with roses and lavender colored skulls completed the outfit.

"Maybe she's headed to a funeral after this," Bella joked, flipping her hair over her shoulder and rolling her eyes.

Jasper kept his eyes on Lauren while his friends dissected every article of her clothing. Shock took the place of his curiosity when the crowd shifted and he saw that she was leaning on Edward.

"Well, well, well, would you look at that." Rosalie slung her arm over Jasper's shoulders. "It looks like your brother found himself a piece of arm candy."

"He's dating her?" Bella frowned. Jasper swore he saw a hint of jealousy in her features, but then he remembered the hostile scene in chemistry lab the day before. There was no chance she was interested in his brother, especially not in that way.

"Shall we go find out?" Rose took off before giving anyone the chance to answer. Jasper and the rest of the group followed closely behind, stopping when they were several feet away from where Edward and Lauren stood.

"This should be good," Emmett whispered, rubbing his palms together excitedly.

"What do we have here?" Rosalie's voice was loud and filled with disgust.

Lauren turned and gave them an artificially sweet smile. "I could ask you the same thing, Rosalie."

"Did you finally give up on your pursuit of happiness with Newton?" Bella shifted uncomfortably at the mention of her boyfriend. Jasper wondered where he was, and made a note to ask Alice about it later.

Edward turned around then, resting his elbow on top of Lauren's shoulder and narrowing his eyes at them. "I wasn't aware they were letting trash on the boat this morning."

Icy laughter floated from Rosalie's lips. "If they weren't you'd be dateless."

"And your posse would cease to exist," Lauren fired back.

"That's where you're wrong, sweetie. You and your gang of nobodies set the standard for trashy, whereas we," Rosalie pointed over her shoulder to the group congregated behind her, "are looked at as the epitome of class."

"Actually, I think you're more the epitome of cunt." Lauren flipped her middle finger up inches away from Rosalie's face. Alice's eyes widened and Bella sucked in a gasp. The sparks were about to fly, and Jasper wasn't sure he wanted to bear witness to them.

"Don't speak that way to my girlfriend," Emmett said, grabbing Lauren's wrist and pushing her arm back toward her chest.

Edward stepped forward and grabbed Emmett's arm, shoving him away and stepping in front of Lauren. "Don't put your hands on her.

"No woman's ever complained about it before," Emmett joked. He straightened the blazer he wore and resumed his position next to Rosalie.

"That's probably because you've never asked."

"Well Cullen, your mother certainly didn't complain about it last night."

The events that followed Emmett's comment were over in a matter of seconds, but to Jasper everything felt like it was moving in slow motion. Lauren and Alice covered their mouths in disbelief. Rosalie and Bella giggled, though Bella made an attempt to conceal it by turning her head away. Edward's eyes flashed with rage and he pulled his fist back before punching it against Emmett's jaw. Emmett stumbled backwards, knocking over several of the party patrons before falling down himself. Before he even had a chance to respond, Edward was on him, pulling Emmett up by the front of his shirt and punching him in the nose. Emmett took a blind swing, hitting Edward in the mouth and splitting his lip open. Blood dripped down his chin and onto his dress shirt, tarnishing his rich kid costume.

"EDWARD!" Carlisle and a man Jasper didn't recognize pushed through the crowd, grabbing Edward by the back of his jacket and pulling him off of Emmett. Carlisle flung him up against the boat railing and fisted the front of his shirt. "What the hell are you doing?"

"Defending my dead mother," Edward shouted, glaring at Emmett over Carlisle's shoulder. Both boys struggled to free themselves to fight, but neither had success.

"Defend her with words, Edward, not your god damn fists," Carlisle hissed, loosening his grip. Edward shrugged away from his uncle and ran a hand through his hair. Pain radiated from his fingers, and when he looked down he saw cracks breaking the skin.

"Carlisle, what happened?" Esme ran up to them, eyes moving back and forth between her husband's angry glare and her nephew's bloody lip.

"Our nephew and Emmett McCarty seem to be under the impression that charity brunches are an acceptable place to have fist fights."

"Edward threw the fucking punch," Emmett said.

"He had every right to," Lauren spoke up. She brushed her fingertips across Edward's cheek, earning herself a glare and causing him to shrink away in annoyance.

"I want you down on the lower deck – now," Carlisle instructed. Edward rolled his eyes and stalked off toward the staircase with Lauren in tow. The older man turned to his other nephew with a disappointed look on his face. "I can't believe you're willing to call these people your friends."

Jasper watched in silence as his aunt and uncle disappeared in the crowd. The people around them stared for another minute before returning to their superficial conversations and early morning cocktails.

Alice's whisper startled him. "I'm sorry Emmett said that. He had no right to do so."

Jasper just nodded and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his dress pants. Conversation amongst the group resumed like normal, and nobody else said a thing to him about Emmett's comment.

By the time the boat docked three hours later, Jasper was left wondering; with friends like these, did he really need to worry about acquiring any enemies?

IYoK

"Therapy."

Edward stared blankly at his uncle. "Excuse me?"

"Therapy," Carlisle repeated, sipping his coffee and pushing the Sunday edition of the newspaper aside. "You're going to therapy to learn how to process your grief and control your anger."

"What makes you think I'll go to therapy?"

Carlisle looked up at him with serious eyes. "I spoke with Emmett McCarty's father last night. He's agreed not to press charges as long as you go to counseling."

Blood boiled and sore knuckles collided with the kitchen counter. "So I get sentenced to afternoons with a shrink and Richie Rich gets off scot free? How fucking typical."

"This isn't about money or status, Edward. This is about you needing to get a handle on your emotions."

"If you want me to have a handle on my emotions, you better tell McCarty to get a handle on his fucking mouth."

Carlisle pulled his reading glasses off and rubbed his temples. "I'm not saying what he did was right, Edward. I'm just saying there's better ways you could have handled it, and that's what I hope Dr. Whitlock can help you with."

"I don't get any say in this?"

"I'm afraid not." Carlisle stood and collected his dishes, dropping them in the sink and heading for his office. Edward slumped down on his stool and dropped his forehead to the counter.

The last thing he wanted to do was go to therapy. The whole process would leave him feeling exposed, and even though he understood that was part of the point, he didn't want to pick apart his feelings with a complete stranger who could never truly understand him in the first place.

Fucking McCarty and his big fucking mouth.

Edward pulled out his phone and flipped to the calendar app. He scrolled forward until he reached June 2013, and punched an alert in.

281 days until graduation.

281 days until Edward could pack his bags and kiss everything – and everyone – in this miserable town goodbye.

281 days.

Time couldn't move quickly enough.


A/N: I hate the C word. Using it made me cringe.

I think it's hard to picture Lauren's outfit without actually seeing what inspired it. So, I'll post pictures tomorrow on my blog - www dot blueeyedcherryfanfiction dot com. I'll also be posting musicical inspiration and the occasional teaser there too.

Thanks so much to everyone who is still here reading! If there's any way to update more than monthly I'll try to do so, but right now that's all I can give.

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Until December...

xo